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Will Microsoft bring Cortana to iOS and Android?

Microsoft contemplates whether to bring its Cortana personal digital-assistant technology to non-Windows platforms. Are the tradeoffs worth it?

James Martin/CNET

Microsoft management is considering the wisdom and feasibility of making the company's Cortana personal digital-assistant technology available on Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile operating systems.

During a keynote at the SMX Advanced search-marketing conference in Seattle this week, officials acknowledged that the company is weighing the potential trade-offs between pervasiveness and prioritizing. Both GeekWire and Search Engine Land reported on the Microsoft keynote where officials discussed Cortana's possible future.

GeekWire quoted Marcus Ash, a Windows Phone group program manager, as saying "it's a bit of a head scratcher for us right now" as to whether Cortana has a future on iOS and Android.

Ash and Rob Chambers, a group program manager in Microsoft's Applications and Services division, also noted during the June 12 keynote appearance that Microsoft wouldn't be able to integrate Cortana as seamlessly into non-Windows-based devices as it can with Windows Phone. That said, Microsoft's cross-platform push has been increasing as of late, Chambers said.

Neither executive offered any timeline as to when Microsoft might be interested in getting Cortana on iOS or Android. But they did admit there's also the hurdle as to whether and when iOS users would be willing to use Cortana rather than Siri or Google Now, the digital assistants baked into the iOS and Android platforms, respectively.

Microsoft does currently offer Bing apps for iOS and Android, and Apple is increasingly open to using Bing to serve up search results. Recent Microsoft moves, such as making a touch-optimized version of Office available for the iPad -- and most likely, on Android -- ahead of the touch-first Office suite for Windows 8 show that the new Microsoft is willing to put its software and services where users are.

But where does management draw the line? Is Cortana, which is currently still in preview for Windows Phone 8.1 only, a crown jewel that Microsoft should guard as a Microsoft-platform differentiator? (Microsoft is rumored to be planning to make Cortana available on a future version of Windows, possibly next year's Threshold release, as well as on Xbox at some point.) Or would Cortana have more value, as well as more user-input fodder, if it's not just a Windows-only thing?

Until the past year or so, I'd have bet Microsoft management wouldn't even remotely consider bringing Cortana to non-Windows platforms. These days, all bets are off. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cortana show up as an option for iOS and Android platforms, maybe starting with Microsoft's Android-based Nokia X phones.

This story originally appeared as "Could and should Microsoft bring Cortana to iOS, Android?" on ZDNet.

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